Wednesday, April 30, 2008

How to Go Global on a School Budget

The goal: to connect your middle schoolers with experts, students, teachers and citizens around the country and world. The obstacle: your school's budget. But Alexander Russo reports in Edutopia that, using the Flat Classroom Project as an example, teachers can create global education projects with on-hand and free resources.

Russo tells teachers to start close to home, in their schools and communities. Teachers can tap other teachers and students, local businesses or cultural organizations, like churches, that have some connection to another country or region. One example comes from the small, rural town of Mathis, TX, where a new international studies school "discovered that a local company was selling cattle guards to India. The business owner helped explain to the class how the relationship with an overseas buyer works, along with the logistical and cultural issues." Starting close to home not only cuts costs but also helps teachers focus on content rather than webcams, microphones and projectors. Focus on "a meaningful, skill-developing experience, not just a virtual field trip that is pleasant but not particularly deep or rigorous," Russo writes.

And there are a lot of free tools available for all kinds of global or international projects. Wikis, podcasts, and Google Earth are familiar tools for sharing and working across borders and time zones. Nings, also free and with multimedia capabilities, allow students to connect and share in a controlled space, vital for middle schoolers. Scheduling can be coordinated with AirSet, a free online program. FlashMeeting provides free videoconferencing, even for schools with low bandwidth. ePals offers free learning communities that teachers can control and monitor. Many schools are already using ePals for all kinds of learning projects and needs.

For somewhat minimal fees, depending on your school's resources, teachers can also tap iEARN and Journeys in Film. iEARN, International Education and Resource Network, coordinates collaborative projects for $100 per teacher or $400 for an entire school. As many as 20,000 educators are part of iEARN's learning communities. If your school has no online connections, Journeys in Film offers lesson plans to use with international films to bring the world to your students. Journeys in Film charges $75 per teaching guide or $250 for a set of four.

Other sites that have resources for global projects include the Global Educational Collaborative, a social-networking site for teachers; the Apple Learning Exchange, an online community maintained by Apple; and Global SchoolNet, a site that offers project learning exchanges on the Internet.

SOURCE: "Global Education On a Dime: A Low-Cost Way to Connect" 11/12/07
photo courtesy of Gaetan Lee, used under this Creative Commons license

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